Private Eye

Private Eye
Private Eye
Magazine cover dominated by large colour photograph overlaid with cartoon-style speech bubbles, captioned with tabloid-style headline, below a yellow and green masthead. There is no prose on the cover.

Cover of Private Eye from July 2011
Type Fortnightly satirical
news magazine
Format Magazine
Owner Pressdram Ltd
Editor Ian Hislop
Founded 1961
Headquarters 6 Carlisle Street
Circulation 210,218[1]
ISSN 0032-888X
Official website

Private Eye is a fortnightly British satirical and current affairs magazine, edited by Ian Hislop.

Since its first publication in 1961, Private Eye has been a prominent critic and lampooner of public figures and entities that it deemed guilty of any of the sins of incompetence, inefficiency, corruption, pomposity or self-importance and it has become a self-styled "thorn in the side" of the British establishment. It has always received criticism from some quarters for its irreverent style and for its willingness to print stories that are controversial and allegedly defamatory. This was reflected in the past by the large number of libel lawsuits against it, a phenomenon for which it became notorious.

As Britain's best-selling current affairs magazine,[2] such is its long-term popularity and impact that many recurring in-jokes from Private Eye have entered popular culture.



The forerunner of Private Eye was a school magazine, The Salopian, edited by Richard Ingrams, Willie Rushton, Christopher Booker and Paul Foot at Shrewsbury School in the mid-1950s. After their National Service, Ingrams and Foot went as undergraduates to Oxford University, where they met their future collaborators Peter Usborne, Andrew Osmond,[3] John Wells and Danae Brook, among others.

The magazine proper began when Peter Usborne learned of a new printing process, photo-litho offset, which meant that anybody with a typewriter and Letraset could produce a magazine. The publication was initially funded by Osmond and was launched in 1961. It was named when Andrew Osmond looked for ideas in the famous recruiting poster of Lord Kitchener (an image of Kitchener pointing with the caption "Wants You") and, in particular, the pointing finger. After the name Finger was rejected, Osmond suggested Private Eye, in the sense of someone who "fingers" a suspect. The magazine was initially edited by Christopher Booker and designed by Willie Rushton, who also drew cartoons for it. Its later editor Richard Ingrams, who was then pursuing a career as an actor, shared the editorship with Booker, from around issue 10, and took over fully at issue 40. At first Private Eye was merely a vehicle for silly jokes: an extension of the original school magazine, and an alternative to Punch. However, according to Booker, it simply got "caught up in the rage for satire".

After the magazine's initial success, more funding was provided by Nicholas Luard and Peter Cook, who ran The Establishment – a satirical nightclub - and Private Eye became a fully professional publication.

Others essential to the development of the magazine were Auberon Waugh, Claud Cockburn (who had run a pre-war scandal sheet, The Week), Barry Fantoni, Gerald Scarfe, Tony Rushton, Patrick Marnham and Candida Betjeman. Christopher Logue was another long-time contributor, providing a column of "True Stories" featuring cuttings from the national press. The gossip columnist Nigel Dempster wrote extensively for the magazine before he fell out with the editor and other writers, and Paul Foot wrote on politics, local government and corruption.

Ingrams continued as editor until 1986, when he was succeeded by Ian Hislop. Ingrams is still chairman of the holding company.[4]

Nature of the magazine

Photo of black and white A4 poster attached to telegraph pole, reads: "The current issue of Private Eye magazine contains an article about one of our Councillors, the Estate and the Council."
Poster produced by a Private Eye reader publicising the appearance of a local councillor in the "Rotten Boroughs" column

Private Eye is often seen as specialising in scurrilous gossip and scandal about the misdeeds of the powerful and famous, and has received numerous libel writs. These include three issued by Sir James Goldsmith and several by Robert Maxwell, one of which resulted in costs and reported damages of £225,000 and attacks on the magazine through the publication of a book, Malice in Wonderland, and a magazine, Not Private Eye, published by Maxwell.[5] Its defenders point out that it often carries news that the mainstream press will not use for fear of legal reprisals or because it is of minority interest.

Unearthing scandals and breaking news

Some of the contributors to Private Eye are media figures or specialists in their field who write anonymously, often under humorous pseudonyms. Stories sometimes originate from writers for more mainstream publications who cannot get their stories published by their main employers.

A financial column at the back of the magazine ("In the City", written by Michael Gillard) has contributed to a wide city and business readership as a large number of financial scandals and unethical business practices and personalities were first exposed there.

Recurring in-jokes

The magazine has a number of recurring in-jokes and convoluted references, often comprehensible only to those who have read the magazine for many years. These include references to controversies or legal ambiguities in a subtle euphemistic code, such as replacing "drunk" with "tired and emotional", or using the phrase "Ugandan discussions" to denote illicit sexual exploits; and more obvious parodies utilising easily recognisable stereotypes, such as the lampooning as "Sir Bufton Tufton" of Conservative MPs viewed to be particularly old-fashioned and bigoted. Such terms have sometimes fallen into disuse as their hidden meanings have become better known.

The first half of each issue of the magazine, which consists chiefly of reporting and investigative journalism, tends to include these in-jokes in a more subtle manner, so as to maintain journalistic integrity, while the second half, more geared around unrestrained parody and cutting humour, tends to present itself in a more confrontational way.

Layout and style

Private Eye has lagged behind other magazines in adopting various typesetting and printing technologies. At the start it was laid out with scissors and paste and typed on three IBM Executive typewriters – italics, pica and elite – lending an amateurish look to the pages. For some years after layout tools became available the magazine retained this technique to maintain its look, although the three older typewriters were replaced with an IBM composer. Today the magazine is still predominantly in black and white (though the cover and some cartoons inside appear in colour) and there is more text and less white space than is typical for a modern magazine. The former "Colour Section" was ironically named, because it was printed in black and white like the rest of the magazine: only the content was colourful.

Special editions

The magazine has published a series of independent special editions dedicated solely to news reporting of particular current events, such as government inadequacy over the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak, the conviction in January 2001 of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing (Lockerbie: the flight from justice, May/June 2001), and the MMR vaccine (The MMR: A Special Report, subtitled: "The story so far: a comprehensive review of the MMR vaccination/autism controversy" 2002).

Another special issue was published in September 2004 to mark the death of long-time staff member Paul Foot.

Regular sections

Regular columns

  • "Ad Nauseam" – the excesses, plagiarism and creative failings of the advertising industry.
  • "Brussels Sprouts" – the foibles of the European Union and its parliament.
  • "Called to Ordure" – reporting from recent committee appearances by regulators or senior civil servants, written by the pseudonymous "Gavel Basher".
  • "Commentatorballs" previously known as Colemanballs – verbal gaffes from broadcasting. Previously named after the former BBC broadcaster David Coleman, who was adjudged particularly prone to such solecisms during his many sporting commentaries. Variants also appear in which publications and press releases are mocked for inappropriately latching on to a current fad to draw unwarranted attention to something else, such as "Dianaballs" (following Princess Diana's death in 1997), "Millenniumballs" (1999), "Warballs" (following the September 11, 2001 attacks), "Tsunamiballs" (following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake), "Obamaballs" (after the election of President Barack Obama in 2008), and "Electionballs".
  • "Curse of Gnome" An irregular column in which targets of Private Eye who have responded in return are mocked when they suffer a severe misfortune.
  • "Medicine Balls" – medical news and coverage of the National Health Service, written by the general practitioner (and sometime comedian) Dr Phil Hammond.
  • "Down On The Farm" – agricultural issues.
  • "Down On The Fishfarm" – issues relating to fish farming. Subsequently expanded to cover various environmental issues and renamed "Eco-Gnomics", after several alternative titles were tried out.
  • "Eye TV" – analysis of television programmes and news/criticism of the UK television industry, written by the pseudonymous "Remote Controller". (ITV is a British TV channel.)
  • "Funny Old World" – supposedly genuine quirky news stories from around the world, and one of the few columns with a by-line (Victor Lewis-Smith). Continued an earlier column, Christopher Logue's True Stories.
  • "Hackwatch" – a column which highlights inconsistency and inaccuracy by prominent journalists.
  • "High Principals" – examining further and higher education issues and spotlighting individuals who might have acted in their own interests, rather than those of education.
  • "HP Sauce" – covering politics and politicians. ("HP" refers to the Houses of Parliament, as well as being an actual brand of sauce.)
  • "In The Back" – in-depth investigative journalism, often taking the side of the downtrodden. This section was overseen by Paul Foot until his death in 2004; under his tenure it was known as Footnotes. It often features stories on potential miscarriages of justice and stories on other embarrassing establishment misdeeds.
  • "In The City" – analysis of financial and city affairs and people.
  • "Just Fancy That" – contradictory snippets reprinted from press publications, sometimes from within a single edition of the same newspaper.
  • "Letter From..." – column purporting to be written by a resident of a particular country highlighting its political or social situation. The name derives from Alistair Cooke's Letter from America.
  • "Levelling the Playing Fields" – chronicling what the magazine sees as the public sector's bid to sell off as much of its remaining recreational green space as possible to supermarkets or housing developers.
  • "Literary Review" – book reviews and news from the world of publishing and bookselling, written by the pseudonymous "Bookworm". The masthead from the magazine of the same name, formerly edited by Auberon Waugh (aka Abraham Wargs, "The Voice of Himself"), is lifted for this section. Regular sections include a critical review; "What You Didn't Miss", a pastiche summary of a recent book; "Books & Bookmen", articles about the absurdities of the publishing business (its title taken from a now-defunct British magazine); and "Library News". The column produces an annual summary of "logrolling", the activity whereby literary colleagues publish favourable reviews of each other's books, or where rivals have disparaged their competitor's publications. Bookworm's anonymity makes it impossible to identify where this applies to Private Eye, but readers lampooned the column for an uncharacteristically positive review of Paul O'Grady's 2009 autobiography.
  • "Man/Woman in the Eye" – usually detailing the past exploits of someone recently appointed into a government advisory role and why these exploits make their appointment unsuitable or contradictory.
  • "Music and Musicians" – gossip on the artistic and political intrigues behind the scenes in the world of classical music. Written by "Lunchtime O'Boulez": Lunchtime O'Booze has been a resident Private Eye journalist since the magazine's earliest days; Pierre Boulez, French avant garde composer and conductor, was a controversial choice as principal conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the early 1970s. In an earlier incarnation, the column published scurrilous and unfounded gossip about the London Symphony Orchestra, which resulted in a significant libel pay-out.)[6] The title of the column is taken from a now-defunct British magazine which was a sister publication of Books and Bookmen.
  • "News" (previously called "The Colour Section") – effectively the stories the magazine is most proud of that week or thinks most important, placed at its front.
  • "Nooks & Corners" – architectural criticism. This is one of the magazine's most famous sections. It was originally titled "Nooks & Corners of the New Barbarism", a reference to the architectural movement known as New Brutalism. The column was founded by John Betjeman, and as of 2011 written by architectural historian Gavin Stamp using the name 'Piloti'.
  • "Rotten Boroughs" – a column reporting on dubious practices, absurdity and occasionally corruption in local government. The name is a play on the term rotten borough. This section, edited by Tim Minogue, is sourced via scores of tips and leads from councillors, whistleblowing council officials, freelance journalists and members of the public.
  • "Signal Failures" – covering railway issues. The author name "Dr B. Ching" refers to Dr Richard Beeching, whose report led to widespread cuts to the British railway network in the 1960s.
  • "Street of Shame" – covering journalism, newspapers and other press stories, and usually largely written by Francis Wheen and Adam Macqueen. The title refers to Fleet Street.
  • "Squarebasher" – looking at military issues relating to all the armed forces, including deployments, equipment and training.
  • "Under The Microscope" – looking at scientific issues.
  • "Wikipedia Whispers" – reporting cases of personalities apparently editing their own Wikipedia entries to make them more favourable. The name recalls "Wicked Whispers", a section in the "3am" feature of the Daily Mirror newspaper.[7]

The magazine also features periodic columns such as "Library News", "Libel News", "Charity News" and others, detailing recent happenings in those areas. These follow predictable formats: library news usually chronicles local councils' bids to close libraries; libel news usually highlights what it sees as unjust libel judgements; while charity news usually questions the financial propriety of particular charities. "Poetry Corner" is the periodic contribution of obituaries by the fictional junior poet "E. J. Thribb".

Satirical columns

  • "Court Circular" – a parody of The Daily Telegraph and The Times Court Circular sections which detail the activities of the Royal Family: for example, "HRH Prince Harry attended the opening of a bottle of vodka at Slappers Niteclub in Kensington."
  • "Diary" – a parody of the weekly 'diary' column which appears in The Spectator magazine, written by Craig Brown in the style of the chosen celebrity. One of the few regular columns with a byline, which was introduced after Alan Clark sued Peter Bradshaw, then of the London Evening Standard, for his unattributed parody of Clark's diaries.

Newspaper parodies

The latter half of the magazine is taken up with parodies of newspapers, spoofing various publications' layout, writing styles and adverts. Where further content is implied, but omitted, this is said to continue "on page 94".

  • A Doctor Writes – the fictional "A. Doctor" or "Dr Thomas Utterfraud" parodies newspaper articles on topical medical conditions, particularly those by Dr Thomas Stuttaford.
  • A Taxi Driver Writes – a view from a purported taxi driver, usually a politician or media personality, who will be named as (e.g.) No. 13458 J Prescott. The column gives excessively one-sided views, usually of a right-wing nature, saying that a named group or individual should be "strung up" (hanged).
  • Dave Spart – ultra-left wing activist, always representing a ridiculous-sounding union (such as the National Amalgamated Union of Sixth-Form Operatives and Allied Trades), collective or magazine, which is frequently based in Neasden. Spart's views attempt to highlight alleged misconduct, prejudice or general wrongdoing, but often end up being contradictory and illogical. The name Spart is derived from the German Spartacus League which existed during World War I, and other subsequent revolutionary groups.[citation needed]
  • Glenda Slagg – brash, libidinous and self-contradictory female reporter based on Jean Rook and Lynda Lee-Potter. Every sentence from Slagg ends with an onslaught of punctuation made up of repeated "?" and "!" signs, and often features intermittent editorial commentary such as "you've done this already, get on with it" or, ultimately, "you're fired".
  • From The Messageboards – introduced in 2008, this is a spoof of Internet forums, in particular those of BBC Radio 5 Live.
  • Gnomemart – the Christmas special edition of Private Eye includes spoof adverts for expensive but useless mail-order gadgets, usually endorsed by topical celebrities and capable of playing topical songs or TV theme tunes.
  • In the hot metal era, The Guardian was first lampooned as The Grauniad for its frequent typographical errors. The Eye continues to use the name, and the word has entered the language.
  • Lunchtime O'Booze has been among the magazine's resident journalists since the early days. The name is a comment on journalists' supposed traditional fondness for alcohol, their prandial habits, and the suspicion that they pick up many of their stories in public houses.
  • Mary Ann Bighead – a mockery of the former The Times columnist and assistant editor Mary Ann Sieghart. Bighead is lampooned for her pretentions, ignorance, boastfulness about of her children Brainella and Intelligencia, high standard of living, travels (mainly to developing countries where she patronises the locals), and the fact that she can speak so many languages (including Swahili, Tagalog and 13th Century Mongolian).
  • Neasden United FC, playing in the "North Circular Relegation League", is a fictional football club from Neasden, North London, often used to satirise English football in general with the manager "ashen-faced supremo Ron Knee, 59" possibly from Ron Atkinson and their only two fans "Sid and Doris Bonkers", playing on the idea of tiny devoted fanbases of unsuccessful football clubs.
  • Obvious headline – banal stories about celebrities that receive extensive reporting in the national press are rewritten as anonymous headlines, such as "SHOCK NEWS: MAN HAS SEX WITH SECRETARY". This is usually "EXCLUSIVE TO ALL NEWSPAPERS". This is often followed by slightly oblique, "shocking" references to the Pope being Catholic, and to bears defecating in the woods.
  • Official Apology or Product Recall – spoofs the official apologies and product recall notices that newspapers are mandated to print. For example, the subject might be the English national football team. Always starts "In common with all other newspapers" (or retailers), implying that none has apologised.
  • Poetry Corner – trite obituaries of the recently deceased in the form of poems from the fictional teenage poet E. J. Thribb (17½). The poems usually bear the heading "In Memoriam..." and begin "So. Farewell then".
  • Polly Filler – a vapid and self-centred female "lifestyle" columnist, whose irrelevant personal escapades and gossip serve solely to fill column inches. She complains about the workload of the modern woman whilst passing all parental responsibility onto "the au pair", who always comes from a less-advanced country, is paid a pittance, and fails to understand the workings of some mundane aspect of "lifestyle" life. Her name is derived from Polyfilla, a DIY product used to fill holes and cracks in plaster. Polly's sister Penny Dreadful makes an occasional appearance. Like several Private Eye regulars, Polly is based on more than one female columnist, but Jane Moore of The Sun, whose remarks are often echoed by Polly or commented on elsewhere in the magazine, is a major source. Additionally, the column mocks Rupert Murdoch's media empire in general and Sky television in particular, as Polly's husband, "the useless Simon", is usually mentioned as being in front of the television (wasting time) watching exotic sports on obscure satellite television channels.
  • Police log – Neasden Central Police Station – a fictional police station log, satirising current police policies that are met with general contempt and/or disdain. Ordinary police activities are ignored, with police attention limited to "counter-terrorism", obsessive political correctness and pointless bureaucracy. For example, one incident reports on an elderly woman being attacked by a gang of youths, arrested (and unfortunately dying of "natural causes" in police custody) for infringing their right to terrorise pensioners.
  • Pop Scene by Maureen Cleavage – originally a spoof of press coverage of the music business and in particular Maureen Cleave, who had a column in the Evening Standard. In the early to mid-1960s, popular culture was starting to be taken more seriously by the heavier newspapers; some claim that Private Eye considered this approach pretentious and ripe for ridicule, although others argue that the magazine was in fact covering popular culture before some of the more serious newspapers. This section also provided an outlet for satirical comment on popular musicians, whose antics were usually attributed to the fictional pop group "The Turds" and their charismatic leader "Spiggy Topes". Topes and the Turds were originally based on The Beatles and a thinly disguised John Lennon, but the names were eventually applied to any rock star or band whose excesses featured in the popular press. (Although at the same time there was a real group called The Thyrds who appeared in the final of ITV's Ready, Steady, Win! competition.)
  • Sally Jockstrap – a fictional sports columnist who is incapable of correctly reporting any sporting facts. Her articles are usually a mishmash of references to several sports, along the lines of "there was drama at Twickenham as Michael Schumacher double faulted to give Arsenal victory". Said to be inspired by Lynne Truss.[8]
  • The Has-Beano – a pastiche of Britain's long-running Beano children's comic, used to satirise The Spectator and Boris Johnson (who features as the lead character, Boris the Menace).
  • Toy-town News or Nursery Times – a newspaper based on the mythology of children's stories. For example, the royal butler Paul Burrell was satirised as the "Knave of Hearts" who was "lent" tarts "for safe keeping", rather than stealing them as in the rhyme. Nigel Dempster is referred to as "Humpty Dumpster".
  • Ye Daily Tudorgraph – a newspaper written in mock Tudor period language, set in that time and clearly a parody of the Daily Telegraph. It usually suggests that former Telegraph editor Bill Deedes was a young boy at the time.


The magazine contains a variety of regular sections, consisting of small amusing examples of different aspects of everyday life, generally sent in by readers. They include "Colemanballs" (gaffes by sports commentators with poor or accidentally inaccurate command of the English language), "Dumb Britain" (examples of poor knowledge taken from British quiz shows) and "Let's Parlez Franglais" (which mocks recent political events, mainly within Europe, by creating an imaginary transcript in Franglais, usually ending with a reference to 'Kilometres' Kington).

Prime Minister parodies

A traditional fixture in Private Eye is a full-page parody of the Prime Minister of the day. The style is chosen to mock the perceived foibles and folly of each Prime Minister:

  • Harold Wilson, who cultivated an exaggerated working class image, was mocked in "Mrs. Wilson's Diary", supposedly written by his wife, Mary Wilson. This parodied Mrs. Dale's Diary, a popular BBC radio series.
  • Edward Heath, whose government was beset by economic and political problems, presided over Heathco, permanently "going out of business".
  • As leader of the opposition to Margaret Thatcher, Neil Kinnock was shown as "Dan Dire" (based on the cartoon character Dan Dare), in his struggle against the Maggon, "Supreme Ruler of the Universe".
  • John Major, undermined and embarrassed by his party's right wing during the 1990s, vented his frustrations in "The Secret Diary of John Major", inspired by the Sue Townsend books
  • Tony Blair was portrayed as the sanctimonious Vicar of St. Albion's, a fictional parish church, in "St. Albion's Parish News". Editor Ian Hislop has said the idea came about after Blair walked into Downing Street carrying his guitar in 1997, like "the new vicar [about] to sing Kumbaya." Richard Ingrams wrote in The Observer that he was amused to see the parody become true, after Blair left office and formed the Faith Foundation to promote religious harmony.
  • During his government, Gordon Brown (2007–10) was mocked as the Supreme Leader of a North Korean-style state, railing against the "running dog ex-Comrade Blair" and secret plots to depose him. This enabled Private Eye to comment on Brown's lack of election as Prime Minister, either by the public or the Labour Party, as well as his supposed Stalinist style of leadership.
  • The current column features the newsletter of the fictional "New Coalition Academy (formerly Brown's Comprehensive)", in which Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg are portrayed as headmaster and deputy headmaster. The motto of the Academy is "Duo in Uno".

Not all of Private Eye's parodies have been unsympathetic. During the 1980s, Ingrams and John Wells wrote fictional letters from Denis Thatcher to Bill Deedes in the Dear Bill column, mocking Margaret Thatcher's husband as an amiable, golf-playing drunk. The column was collected in a series of books and became a play in which Wells played the fictional Denis, a character who is now inextricably "blurred [with] the real historical figure", according to Ingrams.[3]


  • Classified – adverts from readers. In the past, these commonly featured personal ads which used code words to describe particular sexual acts. Currently, the adverts usually include products for sale, conspiracy theorists promoting their ideas, and the "Eye Need" adverts in which people request money for personal causes.
  • Crossword – a cryptic prize crossword, notable for its vulgarity. In the early 1970s the crossword was set by the Labour MP Tom Driberg, under the pseudonym of "Tiresias" (supposedly "a distinguished academic churchman"). As of 2011 it was set by one of The Guardian's cryptic crossword setters, Eddie James ("Brummie" in the paper) under the name Cyclops. The crossword frequently contains offensive language and references (both in the clues and the solutions), and a knowledge of the magazine's in-jokes and slang is necessary to solve it.
  • Letters – this frequently includes letters from high-profile figures, sometimes in order for the magazine to print an apology and avoid litigation. Other letters express disgust at a recent article or cartoon, many ending by saying (sometimes in jest) that they will (or will not) cancel their subscription. This section also prints celebrity 'lookalikes' and regularly prints an embarrassing picture of Andrew Neil (see: recurring in-jokes).
  • The Book of... – a spoof of the Old Testament, applying language and imagery reminiscent of the King James Bible to current affairs in the Middle East.
  • The Alternative Rocky Horror Prayer Book – a pastiche of attempts to update Anglican religious ceremonies into more modern versions.
  • The cover, with its famous speech bubble, putting ironic or humorous comments into the mouths of famous people in response to topical events.

Defunct sections

  • Auberon Waugh's Diary – Waugh wrote a regular diary for the magazine, usually combining real events from his own life with fictional episodes such as parties with the Queen), from the early 1970s until 1985. It was generally written in the persona of an ultra-right-wing country gentleman, a subtle exaggeration of his own personality. He described it as the world's first example of journalism specifically dedicated to telling lies.
  • London Calling – a round-up of news, especially of the "loony left" variety, during the days of the Greater London Council. This column was retired when the GLC was abolished.
  • Sally Deedes – genuine consumer journalism column, exposing corrupt or improper goods, services or dealings. This column was the origin of the magazine's first-ever libel victory in the mid-1990s.
  • Illustrated London News – a digest of news and scandal from the city, parodying (and using the masthead of) the defunct gazette of the same name. It was usually written by the radical pioneer journalist Claud Cockburn.
  • Grovel – a "society" column, featuring gossip, scandal and scuttlebutt about the rich and famous, and probably the section which gave rise to the magazine's largest number of libel claims. Its character and style (accompanied by a drawing of a drunk man with a monocle, top hat and cigarette holder) was based on Nigel Dempster, lampooned as Nigel Pratt-Dumpster. Grovel last appeared in issue 832 (25 Nov 1993).
  • Hallo! – the "heart-warming column" purportedly written by The Marquesa, was nearly identical to Grovel in content, but with a new prose style parodying the breathless and gushing format established by magazines such as Hello.
  • Thomas, The Privatised Tank Engine – a parody of Rev. W. Awdry's Railway Series, written by Incledon Clark and printed at the time of the debate over the privatisation of British Rail in 1993–4.
  • Wimmin – a regular 1980s section featuring quotes from feminist writing deemed to be ridiculous (similar to Pseuds Corner).


Private Eye is home to many of Britain's most highly regarded humorous cartoonists. As well as many one-off cartoons, the magazine has featured a number of regular comic strips:

  • Great Bores of Today (defunct) by Michael Heath.
  • The Regulars (defunct) by Michael Heath - based on the drinking scene at the Coach and Horses pub (a regular meeting place for the magazine's staff and guests), and featuring the catchphrase "Jeff bin in?" (a reference to pub regular, the journalist Jeffrey Bernard).
  • Yobs and Yobettes by Tony Husband - satirising yob culture.
  • Supermodels by Neil Kerber - satirising their lifestyle; the characters are unfeasibly thin.
  • The Commuters (defunct) by Grizelda - follows the efforts of two commuters to get a train to work.
  • It's Grim Up North London by Knife and Packer - satire about Islington 'trendies'.
  • Young British Artists by Birch - a spoof of artists such as Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst.
  • Off Your Trolley (defunct) by Reeve & Way - set in an NHS hospital.
  • Apparently by Mike Barfield - satirising day-to-day life or pop trends.
  • The Premiersh*ts by Paul Wood - about the state of professional football and footballers.
  • Celeb by Charles Peattie and Mark Warren - a strip about the celebrity rock star Gary Bloke.
  • Snipcock & Tweed by Nick Newman - two book publishers.
  • The Directors by Dredge & Rigg - comments on the excesses of boardroom fat cats.
  • The Cloggies (defunct) by Bill Tidy - clog dancers.
  • Hom Sap (defunct) by Austin.
  • Scenes you seldom see by Barry Fantoni - satirising the habits of British people by portraying the opposite of what is the generally accepted norm.
  • Battle for Britain (defunct) - a satire of British politics (1983–1987) in terms of World War II
  • EUphemisms – features a European Union official making a statement, with the caption stating what it means in real terms, generally depicting the EU in a negative light. For example, a French Minister declares "The euro is not a failure" with the caption reading "I'm using the word "not" in its loosest possible sense".
  • Barry McKenzie (defunct) – popular strip in the mid-1960s detailing the adventures of an expatriate Australian in Earl's Court and elsewhere, written by Barry Humphries and drawn by Nicholas Garland.
  • Dave Snooty – drawn in the style of The Beano, it parodies David Cameron as "Dave Snooty" (a reference to the Beano character "Lord Snooty"), involved in public schoolboy-type behaviour with members of his cabinet.
  • The Broon-ites (defunct) – a pastiche of Scottish cartoon strip The Broons, featuring Gordon Brown and his close associates. The speechbubbles are written in broad Scots.
  • Global Warming: The Plus Side – a satire of the effects of global warming, suggesting mock "positive" impacts of the phenomena, such as bus-sized marrows in village vegetable competitions, vastly decreased fossil prices due to melting permafrost, and the proliferation of British citrus orchards.
  • Liz (defunct) – a cartoon about the Royal Family drawn by Cutter Perkins and RGJ in the style of the comic magazine Viz (with speech in Geordie dialect). Ran from issue 801 to issue 833.
  • Meet the Clintstones – The Prehistoric First Family – drawn in the style of The Flintstones, this is a parody of Bill and Hillary Clinton during his Presidency and the 2008 US presidential election.
  • Dan Dire, Pilot of the Future? and Tony Blair, Pilot for the Foreseeable Future (defunct) - parodies of the Dan Dare comics of the 1950s, satirising (respectively) Neil Kinnock's time as Labour Party leader, and Tony Blair's Labour government..

At various times, Private Eye has also used the work of Ralph Steadman, Wally Fawkes, Timothy Birdsall, Martin Honeysett, Willie Rushton, Gerald Scarfe, Bill Tidy, Robert Thompson, Ken Pyne, Geoff Thompson, "Jerodo", Ed McLauchlan, "Pearsall", Kevin Woodcock, Brian Bagnall and Kathryn Lamb.

Frequent targets for parody and satire

While the magazine in general reports corruption, self-interest and incompetence in a broad range of industries and lines of work, in practice certain people and entities receive a particularly large amount of coverage in its pages. As the most visible public figures, Prime Ministers and senior politicians make the most natural targets, but Private Eye also aims its criticism at journalists, newspapers and particularly prominent or interesting businesspeople. It is the habit of the magazine to attach nicknames, usually offensive and often very crude, to these people, and often to create surreal and extensive alternate personifications of them, which usually take the form of parody newspaper articles in the second half of the magazine.

Other media and merchandise

Private Eye has from time to time produced various spin-offs from the magazine:

Criticism and controversy

Public offence

Cover with headline "Media to Blame" shows large crowd gathered at the gates of Buckingham Palace with speech bubbles: "The papers are a disgrace"; "Yes, I couldn't get one anywhere"; "Borrow mine, it's got a picture of the car."
The front cover of the infamous "Diana Issue"

Some people have found the magazine's irreverence and occasionally distasteful humour offensive. Upon the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, Private Eye printed a cover headed "MEDIA TO BLAME". Under this headline was a picture of many hundreds of people outside Buckingham Palace, with one person commenting that the papers were "a disgrace", another agreeing, saying that it was impossible to get one anywhere, and another saying, "Borrow mine. It's got a picture of the car."[9] Following the abrupt change in reporting from newspapers immediately following her death, the issue also featured a mock retraction from "all newspapers" of everything negative that they had ever said about Diana. This was enough to cause a flood of complaints, many cancelled subscriptions, and the temporary removal of the magazine from the shelves of several newsagents. These included W H Smith, which had previously refused to stock Private Eye until well into the 1970s, and was characterised in the magazine as "WH Smugg" or "WH Smut" on account of its policy of stocking pornographic magazines. The Diana issue is now one of the most highly sought-after back issues.

Similar complaints were received about the issues that followed the Ladbroke Grove rail crash, the September 11, 2001 attacks (the magazine even including a special "subscription cancellation coupon" for disgruntled readers to send in) and the Soham murders. Following the 7 July 2005 London bombings the magazine's cover featured Tony Blair saying to Ken Livingstone, "We must track down the evil mastermind behind the bombers...", to which Livingstone replies "...and invite him around for tea", in reference to his controversial invitation of Yusuf al-Qaradawi to London.[10]


The cover of issue 256 from 1971 showed Emperor Hirohito visiting Britain with the caption "A nasty nip in the air" (subhead: "Piss off, Bandy Knees").[11] In the 1960s and 1970s the magazine mocked the gay rights movement as "Poove Power".[citation needed]


The 2004 Christmas issue received a number of complaints and subscription cancellations after it featured Pieter Bruegel's painting of a nativity scene, in which one wise man said to another: "Apparently, it's David Blunkett's" (who at the time was involved in a scandal in which he was thought to have impregnated a married woman). Many readers sent letters accusing the magazine of blasphemy and anti-Christian attitudes. One stated that the "witless, gutless buggers wouldn't dare mock Islam", an observation later apparently vindicated when the magazine declined to publish the Danish Mohammed cartoons for fear of firebombs (although it does regularly publish Islam-related humour). Many letters in the first issue of 2005 disagreed with the former readers' complaints, and some were parodies of those letters, 'complaining' about the following issue's cover[12] – a cartoon depicting Santa's sleigh shredded to pieces by a wind farm: one said, "To use a picture of Our Lord Father Christmas and his Holy Reindeer being torn limb from limb while flying over a windfarm is inappropriate and blasphemous."


A 2002 Private Eye special supplement on the MMR vaccine controversy was substantially supportive of the interpretation by Andrew Wakefield of published research in The Lancet by the Royal Free Hospital's Inflammatory Bowel Disease Study Group, which described an apparent link between the vaccine, autism and bowel problems. Initially dismissive of Wakefield, the magazine's 32-page special edition gave greater credence to Wakefield's assertion that MMR vaccines "should be given individually at not less than one year intervals." The British Medical Journal issued a contemporary press release[13] that concluded: "The Eye report is dangerous in that it is likely to be read by people who are concerned about the safety of the vaccine. A doubting parent who reads this might be convinced there is a genuine problem and the absence of any proper references will prevent them from checking the many misleading statements." Subsequently, editor Ian Hislop has told the author and columnist Ben Goldacre that Private Eye is "not anti-MMR".[14] In a review article published in February 2010, regular columnist Phil Hammond, who contributes under the pseudonym "M.D.", stated that "Private Eye got it wrong in its coverage of MMR", in maintaining its support for Wakefield's position long after conflicting factors had emerged.[15]


The magazine has long been famous for attracting libel lawsuits, which can lead to damages relatively easily in English law. To ensure a level of safety, the magazine maintains a large quantity of money as a "fighting fund" (although the magazine invariably finds other ways to defuse legal tensions, for example by printing letters from aggrieved parties). As editor, Ian Hislop has become the most sued man in Britain.[16] From 1969 to the mid-1980s, the magazine was represented by human rights lawyer Geoffrey Bindman.[17]

Those who have sued the magazine include many famous names, although the editor has noted that while politicians are a prime target, they "tend to take their medicine like men"; the largest number of lawsuits issue from journalists.[citation needed] For the tenth anniversary issue, the cover showed a cartoon headstone inscribed with a long list of well-known names, and the epitaph "They did not sue in vain".[18]

An unlikely piece of British legal history occurred in what is now referred to as the "case" of Arkell v. Pressdram (1971). The plaintiff was the subject of an article relating to illicit payments, and the magazine had ample evidence to back up the article. Arkell's lawyers wrote a letter which concluded: "His attitude to damages will be governed by the nature of your reply." The magazine's response was, in full: "We acknowledge your letter of 29th April referring to Mr J. Arkell. We note that Mr Arkell's attitude to damages will be governed by the nature of our reply and would therefore be grateful if you would inform us what his attitude to damages would be, were he to learn that the nature of our reply is as follows: fuck off." In the years following, the magazine would refer to this exchange as a euphemism for a blunt and coarse dismissal: for example, "We refer you to the reply given in the case of Arkell v. Pressdram".[19] As with "tired and emotional" this usage has spread beyond the magazine.[20]

Possibly the most famous litigation case against the magazine was initiated by James Goldsmith (known within Private Eye's pages as '(Sir) Jammy Fishpaste'[21][22]), who managed to arrange for criminal libel charges to be brought (effectively meaning that, if found guilty, those behind the Eye could be imprisoned). He sued over allegations that members of the Clermont Set, including Goldsmith, had conspired to shelter Lord Lucan after Lucan had murdered his family nanny, Sandra Rivett. Goldsmith won a partial victory and eventually reached a settlement with the magazine. The case threatened to bankrupt the magazine, which turned to its readers for financial support in the form of the Goldenballs Fund. Goldsmith himself was referred to as Jaws. The solicitor involved in many litigation cases against Private Eye, including the Goldsmith case, was Peter Carter-Ruck (or "Carter-Fuck", as the Eye referred to him).[23]

Robert Maxwell (known as Captain Bob) sued the magazine for the suggestion he looked like a criminal, and won a significant sum. The editor, Ian Hislop, summarised the case: "I've just given a fat cheque to a fat Czech" and later claimed this was the only known example of a joke being told on News At Ten. Sonia Sutcliffe also sued after allegations that she used her connection to her husband, the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, to make money. She won £600,000 which was later reduced to £60,000 on appeal. However, the initial award caused Hislop to quip outside the court: "If this is justice, I'm a banana."[24] Readers raised a considerable sum in the "bananaballs fund", and Private Eye scored a PR coup by donating the surplus to the families of Sutcliffe's victims.

A rare victory for the magazine came in late 2001, when a libel case brought against the magazine by a Cornish chartered accountant, Stuart Condliffe, finally came to trial after ten years. The case was thrown out after only a few weeks as Condliffe had effectively accused his own legal team (Carter-Ruck and Associates) of lying.

In 2009 Private Eye successfully challenged an injunction brought against it by Michael Napier, former head of the Law Society, who had sought to claim "confidentiality" for a report that he had been disciplined by the Law Society in relation to a conflict of interest.[25] The ruling had wider significance in that it allowed other rulings by the Law Society to be publicised.[26][27]

Paul Foot Award

In 2005, The Guardian and Private Eye established the Paul Foot Award, with an annual £10,000 prize fund, for investigative/campaigning journalism.[28]


The magazine is apparently owned by an eclectic group of people, officially published through the mechanism of a limited company called Pressdram Ltd,[29] which was bought as an "off the shelf" company by Peter Cook in November 1961.

Private Eye does not publish explicit details of individuals concerned with its upkeep (and does not contain a list of its editors, writers and designers). In 1981 the book The Private Eye Story stated that the owners were Peter Cook (who owned most of the shareholding) with smaller shareholders including Dirk Bogarde, Jane Asher, and several of those involved with the founding of the magazine. Most of those on the list have since died, however, and it is unclear what happened to their shareholdings. Those concerned are reputedly contractually only to be able to sell their shareholdings at the price they originally paid for them.[citation needed]

Shareholders as of the annual return dated 26 March 2005, including shareholders who have inherited shares, are:

  • Jane Asher
  • Barbara Braden
  • David Cash (also a director)
  • Elizabeth Cook
  • Lin Cook
  • Barry Fantoni
  • Tessa Fantoni
  • Ian Hislop (also a director)
  • Eileen Lewenstein
  • Executor of Lord Farington
  • Peter Cook (Productions) Ltd
  • Private Eye (Productions) Ltd
  • Anthony Rushton (also a director)
  • Connor Hammil
  • Sarah Seymour
  • Thomas Usbourne
  • Brock van der Bogaerde

The other directors are Sheila Molnar, who is also the company secretary, and Richard Ingrams.

The logo for the magazine's News section is a donkey-riding naked Mr Punch caressing his erect and oversized penis, while hugging a female admirer. It is a detail from a frieze by "Dickie" Doyle that once formed the masthead of Punch magazine, which the editors of Private Eye had come to loathe for its perceived descent into complacency. The image, hidden away in the detail of the frieze, had appeared on the cover of Punch for nearly a century and was noticed by Malcolm Muggeridge during a guest-editing spot on Private Eye. The 'Rabelaisian gnome' (as the character was called) was enlarged by Gerald Scarfe, and put on the front cover of issue 69 at full size. He was then formally adopted as a mascot on the inside pages, as a symbol of the old, radical incarnation of Punch magazine that the Eye admired.


On May Day 1965, the magazine held a "Mass for Vass" rally in Central London for beleaguered former British Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home, a reference to his nickname "Baillie Vass". Under police supervision, 300 marchers carried banners proclaiming "High-Speed Vass Gets Things Done", "The Baillie Will No Fail Ye", "Hands off the Rann of Kutch!" and "Who's a Cretin?" (a reference to a former nickname, "Sir Alec Douglas-Who?"). The march progressed from Parliament Square to Conservative Central Office, where, accompanied by a brass band, the participants sang rousing songs in mock support of Home to the occupants of the building. This incident went almost entirely unreported in the national media.

See also


  1. ^ Tryhorn, Chris (2010-02-11). "Private Eye hits best sales since 1992" (PDF). London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  2. ^ Luft, Oliver (2008-08-14). "ABCs: Private Eye stays top of current affairs titles". London: Media Guardian. Retrieved 2008-08-14. 
  3. ^ "Andrew Osmond – Obituary". The Guardian. April 19, 1999. 
  4. ^ Richard Ingrams interview, Press Gazette, 15 December 2005 [1]
  5. ^ Not Private Eye, Tony Quinn,, 6 March 2007
  6. ^ James, Brian (1987-02-28). "The orchestra that opened up". The Times. 
  7. ^ Shelley, Jim (2009-08-11). "Celebrity News – Celebs". Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  8. ^ John Sutherland (2004-03-01). "The fictional ''Sally Jockstrap''". London: Guardian.,3604,1159035,00.html. Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  9. ^ "Private Eye Issue 932". Retrieved 2007-06-15. 
  10. ^ "Private Eye Issue 1137". Retrieved 2007-06-15. 
  11. ^ "Private Eye Issue 256". Retrieved 2007-06-15. 
  12. ^ "Private Eye Issue 1122". Retrieved 2007-06-15. 
  13. ^ Home. "Press: Private Eye Special Report on MMR – Elliman and Bedford 324 (7347): 1224 Data Supplement – Longer version". BMJ. doi:10.1136/bmj.324.7347.1224. Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  14. ^ "The media's MMR hoax – Bad Science". 2008-08-30. doi:10.1016/j.ridd.2010.01.014. Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  15. ^ "Second Opinion: the Editor asks M.D. to peer review Private Eye's MMR coverage". Private Eye (Pressdram) (1256): 17. February 2010. 
  16. ^ Byrne, Ciar (2006-10-23). "Ian Hislop: My 20 years at the "Eye"". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2006-10-23. 
  17. ^ Robins, Jon (13 November 2001). "Forty years old and fighting fit" (in English). The Independent (United Kingdom). Retrieved 22 July 2011. 
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Letters". Private Eye (London: Pressdram Ltd) (1221): 13. October 2008. "Mr Callaghan is referred to the Eye's reply in the famous case of Arkell v. Pressdram (1971)." 
  20. ^ Daneel (19 May 2011). "Comment to Legal rebuttal: "vade et caca in pilleum et ipse traheatur super aures tuo"". Retrieved 2011-05-19. "I'd refer him to the reply given in the case of Arkell v. Pressdram." 
  21. ^ "Colour Section". Private Eye (Pressdram) (907): 5. September 1996. "Now that the victory of Sir Jammy Fishpaste's Referendum party is assured by the addition of zoo-keeper John Aspinall to its candidates' list, Jammy is checking his members more carefully." 
  22. ^ "Colour Section". Private Eye (Pressdram Ltd.) (908): 6. October 1996. "Referendum Party News. Sir Jammy Goldsmith's briefing session for more than 100 Referendum party faithful" 
  23. ^ "A-list libel lawyer dies". BBC News. December 21, 2003. 
  24. ^ "Private Eye – 40 not out ... yet". BBC News. October 25, 2001. 
  25. ^ [2][dead link]
  26. ^ Gibb, Frances (May 21, 2009). "Failure to gag Private Eye clears the way to publication of rulings against lawyers". The Times (London). Retrieved May 27, 2009. 
  27. ^ "PRIVATE EYE WINS CASE!". Private Eye (London: Pressdram Ltd) (1237): 6–7. 29 May 2009. 
  28. ^ The Paul Foot Award for campaigning journalism (archive link)
  29. ^ "Pressdram". WebCHeck – Company Details. Companies House. Retrieved 2007-12-06. "PRESSDRAM LIMITED
    Company No. 00708923
    Date of Incorporation: 24 November 1961"

Further reading

  • Carpenter, Humphrey (2002). That Was Satire That Was. Phoenix. ISBN 0-7538-1393-9. 
  • Ingrams, Richard (1993). Goldenballs!. Harriman House. ISBN 1-897597-03-7. 
  • Hislop, Ian (1990). The Complete Gnome Mart Catalogue. Corgi. ISBN 0-552-13752-9. 
  • Marnham, Patrick (1982). The Private Eye Story. Andre Deutsch/Private Eye. ISBN 0-233-97509-8. 
  • Ingrams, Richard (1971). The Life and Times of Private Eye. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-003357-2. 

External links

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